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A new study has crunched the numbers on efforts to fight climate change, from skipping holidays to ditching our cars. Here’s a guide to the (not always) easy ways to be green

Recycling ... does it really help, or is it a drop in a warming ocean?



Recycling … does it really help, or is it a drop in a warming ocean?
Photograph: Kraig Scarbinsky/Getty Images

Every little recycled yoghurt pot helps – but how best can you help save the planet?

A new study has crunched the numbers on efforts to fight climate change, from skipping holidays to ditching our cars. Here’s a guide to the (not always) easy ways to be green

It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of new coal mines and shrinking rainforests in distant countries, but we also know that being green starts at home. We do what we can, right? But what really helps, and what is a drop in a warming ocean? A study by the Universities of Lund, Sweden, and British Columbia, Canada, has crunched the numbers and the results are intriguing. Bottom line: every little recycled yoghurt pot helps, but the environmental impacts of our actions vary massively. Here’s a cut-out-and-keep (and then, you know, recycle) guide to a greener you.

Fancy a holiday?

Think before you fly long-haul. The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, estimates the savings, in tonnes of CO2 a year, of various actions taken by one person. By avoiding just one transatlantic return flight, you could keep 1.6 tonnes of CO2 out of circulation. Sounds like a lot? Think of it this way: that’s more than seven times the 0.21 tonnes of emissions savings that come with a whole year of recycling.

Dream of the open road?

Sure you do, but – surprise, surprise – cars aren’t cheap for the environment, either. Living without one saves 2.4 tonnes of CO2 a year. That’s the second biggest single thing you can do. Next is buying green energy (1.47 tonnes). Even ditching an electric car will save 1.15 tonnes, while replacing a typical car with a (secondhand) hybrid saves 0.52 tonnes, or twice the amount you’ll save by hanging your clothes to dry (0.21 tonnes; save the same again by washing clothes in cold water).

Could murder a steak?

Make it rare – as in, ideally, never. Previous studies have detailed the environmental cost of agriculture (15% of all emissions), half of which are caused by livestock. Beef is by far the biggest offender, requiring 28 times more land than pork or chicken and 11 times more water. Eating less meat can have a big impact. Eating none, the new study says, could cut 0.82 tonnes of emissions a year, or eight times the savings triggered by upgrading your lightbulbs (0.1 tonnes). So do that, too.

Feeling broody?

Here’s the big one, the massive elephant in the travel cot. By far the single biggest thing you can do to help save the planet is to spare it your car-driving, steak-munching, jetsetting progeny. I mean, don’t feel guilty if you’re up the duff, but consider this: having one fewer child saves 58.6 tonnes of CO2 a year, or almost seven times the emissions you’ll save by doing all of the above. And just think how many chickpeas and train tickets you’ll be able to afford with the financial savings, too.